Not so long ago, you could hold on to an executive, upper-management position until retirement day, provided you kept your nose clean. Today, unless you’ve got an airtight contract guaranteeing your position, compensation and tenure, job security is a thing of the past. Mergers and acquisitions have made longevity and loyalty-on either side-a rarity. Thus, when it comes to responsibility for your career, you hold all the cards.
“Everyone, whether an employee or self-employed, is like an individual business. The aim is to strive and to thrive, no matter what the atmosphere,” says Andy Grove, chairman of the board and former CEO of Intel Corp., the semiconductor giant, in Santa Clara, California. To thrive in today’s corporate environment, you must have a plan-and it’s not the one you had 10 or 15 years ago when you were just starting out. You must reevaluate what you want to do, whether you have the skills to do it and whether it can be accomplished from where you are now.
Life in the corporate fast lane was going well for Richard Harris. He had a great position as director of sales and management for Batesville Casket Co., a Hillenbrand Industries company in Batesville, Indiana. He was responsible for the company’s entire 210-person sales force, which generated almost $1 billion in revenues annually. He had high visibility in the industry and his company, says the 35-year-old New York City native.
That was in 1996. By February 1998, Hillenbrand had started a new company, Forethought Federal Savings Bank, which was chartered and licensed by the federal government as a bank trust for funeral directors, offering industry-specific products that local banks could not. The new company, Forethought Federal Savings Bank, wanted Harris to join it as its director of sales and marketing. It was an opportunity to create a totally new business from the ground up, with a market potential of up to $30 billion annually.
“I was never one to be content with where I was in the corporation. I am constantly challenging myself to persevere within the corporate structure, looking for other opportunities and determining what else I can provide for the organization,” says Harris. He jumped at the opportunity to join Forethought.
In the short term, the new position turned out to be a lateral move. But in keeping with Harris’ long-term, five-year plan, the move was strategically vertical. By showing that he could not only manage and retain an existing business but also had the potential to create a new one and grow its market share, he proved that he was that much more valuable to Hillenbrand-or some other company.
When a manager wants to take responsibility for the future by “owning” his or her career, he must start with self-assessment and purposeful planning. Although you may be undecided about your next steps, you are obligated to find your own answers. Begin by assessing what is happening within your industry and your organization. Is it in a growth or maturing stage? Who are the people who seem